The B-17 is 80 years old today

Today is the 80th anniversary of the maiden flight of the prototype B-17 bomber, one of the most successful and numerous warbirds ever built. On July 28, 1935, Boeing "Model 299" took off for the first time, piloted by Boeing test pilot Leslie Towers, the first of 12,731 built.

800px-Boeing XB-17 (Model 299)

Boeing Model 299, the B-17 prototype, in 1935 (via Wikipedia)

The plane was immediately dubbed the "Flying Fortress." Contrary to popular belief (and Wikipedia), this was not because of its multiple machine-guns. At the time, the United States was pursuing a policy of isolationism, and the new B-17 was conceived as a defensive weapon, a coastal anti-shipping/anti-invasion bomber – hence a flying coastal fortress.

800px-Boeing Y1B-17 in flight

Y1B-17 in flight (via Wikipedia)

In practice it was used for offense. In World War II, thousands of Flying Fortresses flown by thousands of crewmen (including pilot Captain Robert M.Trimble) dropped over 640,000 tons of bombs on German targets. Luftwaffe pilots dubbed it the "fliegendes Stachelschwein" (flying porcupine) because of the bristling defenses.

Happy birthday to the B-17, and a proud salute to the thousands of courageous men who flew missions in them, so many of whom never returned.

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B-17G “Sally B”, one of the world’s 10 surviving airworthy B-17s, at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford (photo © Jeremy Dronfield). (Sally B still wears “Memphis Belle” livery on the starboard nose to commemorate her appearance the 1990 film.)

Content © Jeremy Dronfield and Lee Trimble 2015